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(The Center Square) – Nebraska has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.3% as some industries are having a hard time finding enough workers.

“This is the lowest unemployment rate since the end of 1997, early 1998,” Scott Hunzeker, research director with the Nebraska Department of Labor, told The Center Square. “There were two months in a row when it was 2.3%”

The unemployment rate is a ratio of unemployed people compared to the total labor force, Hunzeker said.

“To be counted in the labor force, you have to meet certain criteria,” he said. “You have to be willing and able to work.”

Currently, there are many workers “sitting on the sidelines,” Hunzeker said.

“That needs to be worked on – figuring out how to get those people back into the labor force and get them comfortable,” he said. “We don’t have great detail as to why they are not working.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, child and elder-care issues, health concerns and enhanced unemployment benefits have been factors in some people's decision not to seek employment, Hunzeker said.

“A lot of people have left the labor force and not re-entered,” he said.

Critics have said the federal unemployment benefit supplement, which expired earlier this month across the U.S. but Nebraska opted out of in June, encouraged people to stay home instead of looking for a job.

“To some degree that may have been true for some people,” Hunzeker said. “But Nebraska’s CARES Act benefits expired in June. Employers are still saying they are having difficulty hiring. They are still taking other actions such as increasing wages and changing benefits, allowing working from home. There are still things that need to be done to draw people back into the work force.”

The labor department is conducting more detailed research on the impact of the federal unemployment supplements on the Nebraska labor market.

“We unfortunately don’t have the data yet to see how many people went back to work quickly after their benefits ended,” said Hunzeker. “We’ll have a better grasp on that within the next three to six months.”

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